The morning after I wrote the post about BWV 211 I woke in a muck sweat at 3 am terrified that I had been unfair to Emma Kirkby.
You can believe as much of the previous sentence as you like, but I do want to take another stab at ‘Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht.’
Here is the Emma Kirkby version, with Rogers [sic] Covey-Crump (tenor), David Thomas (bass) and the Academy of Ancient Music under Christopher Hogwood.
In general I would say that this recording has more snap to it than the other one, both interpretively and in terms of sound quality. They were both recorded in churches, the other one in Quebec and this one in London, so it’s clearly something to do with the performance and/or the engineering. On this one the voices are placed further forward and you can hear all the instruments more clearly.
What jumped out at me first was the quality of the instrumental chamber playing, for example the way the strings and the harpsichord sparkle in the opening of ‘heute noch’, and later the interplay of the voice, violin and harpsichord starting at around 18.40 or so. The same is true of the final trio – I get a greater sense here than in the other recording of the contrast between the sections that are voices/accompaniment and the instrumental sections.
There is a also a little more ‘acting’ in this interpretation. I noticed this first in the opening tenor recitative. Rogers [sic] Covey-Crump is nice in terms of sound alone, too. David Thomas (I keep almost typing ‘David Daniels’ but Daniels is neither a bass nor on this recording) is clearly having fun with ‘Hat man nicht mit seinen Kindern’ and the various recitatives; there is also some fairly dramatic dynamic variation in ‘Mädchen, die von harten Sinnen’ around 11.45 or 12.00 or so, so that some parts are almost whispered. In his frustration Schlendrian is at times on the edge of spitting out some of his words.
And there is also Emma Kirkby. This performance did not change my mind about Kirkby in a cosmic sense, but that does not mean that there is nothing to say about it. I’ll start with ‘Ei! wie schmeckt der Coffee süsse’. My first reaction was ‘oh, yes, that is definitely Kirkby.’ This is the aria where the soprano line and the flute part play with one another. The flute here sounds more baroquey than in the other recording. Because of the type of operation this is, we are informed in the liner notes as to the provenance of the flute, so it may well be a baroque flute. It has that soft recordery sort of sound. But I am not a flute expert, so I will not stake anything on this observation. The flutist is Lisa Beznuosiuk, and this is a very nice performance, both in this aria and later in the finale.
But I was talking about Emma Kirkby. The aria “Ei! wie schmeckt” aria could be about something ecclesiastical – it sounds oratorio-y rather than opera-y in terms of the level and the type of drama. I don’t really like the bottom part of Kirkby’s voice, but the top has more space in it – it’s a lovely, bright, echoing sound. Rather like the flute. The flute is still my favorite part about this, I think.
Kirkby can be borderline precious at times, e.g. the “nun folge” recitative before “heute noch.” And except when Kirkby’s in that nice open spacious part at the top of her voice, Lieschen never really sounds ‘girlish.’ This is odd, given the sort of voice Kirkby has. I noticed this most in “heute noch.” It’s not that Kirkby herself sounds old; it’s an interpretive quality rather than a voice quality. There is a kind of knowingness to this interpretation: it’s someone older performing someone younger with a little wink at the audience. I am not sure that I like being winked at like this.